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Without Beto O'Rourke, Texas Senate primary is 'wide open'

Bridget Bowman, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- It's not difficult to find a former presidential candidate who swore off running for Senate and then changed his mind. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper did in August. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio did it too, in 2016.

Just don't expect former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke to join them after ending his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

O'Rourke was initially encouraged to follow up on his surprisingly strong challenge to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz last year by taking on the state's senior senator, Republican John Cornyn, next year. He said multiple times during the presidential campaign he wasn't interested and told his staff on a conference call last week that he would not be running for Senate or any other office, according to a source close to the campaign.

Now some Democrats in Texas say it's time to move on.

"Had he run against Cornyn and entered the race several months ago, Cornyn would be in deep trouble right now," said Texas Democratic strategist Matt Angle of the Lone Star Project. "That being said, I think the time has passed. People are taking Beto at his word.

"That leaves a pretty wide-open field," he added.

 

Senate speculation is still expected to swirl around O'Rourke and another presidential contender from Texas, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, until the Dec. 9 filing deadline. But absent a big-name candidate who is known statewide, the Democratic primary remains in flux with largely unknown contenders.

"Everyone's trying to pull a Beto and catch fire and have millions of dollars falling from the sky at the click of a mouse," Texas Democratic strategist Colin Strother said. "And no one's been able to do that yet."

Ten Texas Democrats have filed with the Federal Election Commission to run for Senate, including several credible candidates.

"On one hand, it's a more active field than we've seen the Democrats put forth in a statewide race in a long time," said James Henson, the director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. "That said, these are still up-and-coming candidates for the most part."

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